Education students often cite classroom management or student behavior as a source of concern and anxiety. This is understandable given the social context and fractured relationships in many communities. They wonder, “Will I be able to ‘control’ the class?” As a former school principal, I have observed, consulted, and learned from master teachers. In my current capacity as an adjunct professor and student teacher supervisor, I have the opportunity to share my learning and “hands-on” experience with aspiring future teachers.
Quality teachers have taught me many lessons. They use similar practices, regardless of students’ age or grade, to manage the classroom climate and engage students in authentic learning. These strategies include having a mission or purpose, continuously building healthy relationships, and actively listening. My hope is that these ideas will lead others to reflect, question, discuss, and gain new insights about “student management.”
The purpose for teaching provides the foundation of effectiveness. Why do you choose to teach? Master teachers begin with this focus. Think of it as a “bumper sticker” posted on your classroom wall for all to see. One example of a classroom mission statement:
Our classroom is built upon the pillars of courage, respect, love, hope, empathy, and self-discipline. We care for our mind, body, and spirit through study, exercise, and reflection. We care for others by listening, helping, and sharing. We accept personal responsibility for the choices we make and the actions we take.
Can you imagine how relationships, student management, and the classroom climate might be affected by living this mission daily? What if this statement was included on each assignment or class project? I am reminded of a Hindu Proverb, “There is nothing noble in feeling superior to some other person; true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.”
Another practice that contributes to the creation of healthy relationships is sharing responsibility with students. Students will “own it” if they have a part in it. Rather than create rules, present them, and expect students to adhere to them, teachers develop an “agreement” or establish the “norms” with students’ active participation. This process requires time to discuss, listen, and process students’ thinking. It is truly a collaborative effort. Here is an example that can be adapted based on the students’ grade and age level:
- Position yourself as a learner, respect others, and demonstrate personal responsibility
- Avoid distractions, off-task discussions, and use of technology during class
- Contribute to class: ask questions, listen, promote discussion, and work cooperatively
- Attend class regularly, be prompt and prepared, and submit assignments on time
- Agree to disagree respectfully, keep a positive attitude, and a healthy sense of humor
These “norms” were developed by students. Some teachers establish the agreement with a “signed contract” including both teacher and student signatures. As a result, classroom climate and student management are enhanced, increasing the time for learning.
Once a purpose and norms are established, taught, and reinforced, highly effective teachers become active listeners to maintain a climate that is engaging and cooperative. When you model good listening skills, students follow. Becoming a good listener is complex. Students are given time and space to speak freely in a safe classroom. I have observed teachers show interest, empathy, and patience with children. They do not “cut in” the conversation or “overpower” others with their own thoughts. They take care not to judge, criticize, or argue. Rather, they listen intently and ask questions to clarify the concerns of students. How will the students know you care about them?
Becoming a quality teacher requires a multitude of skills and takes years of practice, study, and reflection. There are several domains a teacher must master. Knowing your purpose, building healthy relationships, and actively listening are attributes of effective teaching. Can you imagine a classroom devoid of disruption and distractions? Can you create this classroom? Will you partner with the students to make your dream a reality?
Jerry Minsinger served 38 years in the Pittsburgh Public Schools; as a principal at various school levels for 25 years. Currently, Jerry serves as an adjunct professor and supervisor of student teachers in the School of Education at Duquesne University.